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The importance of sport for children with disabilities – and the lengths their parents go to access it

A basketball being held in two hands

One of the reasons children with disabilities are less active than their non-disabled peers is a lack of local opportunities – and poor signposting to local opportunities that were available.

Access to physical activity and sport is not equal. Children and young people with disabilities are less likely to engage in physical activity and sport, as there are significant barriers to their participation.

Parents are often vital in helping their children become involved in sport. In our research, we spoke to 11 parents of children and young people aged between 12 and 25 who were competing in at UK or international level in parasport. We wanted to understand their experience supporting their children’s sport participation and parasport pathways. Their children were competitive in a range of parasports, including wheelchair tennis, athletics and swimming.

For most parents, their child’s sense of social belonging was their biggest concern. This had led them to seek out opportunities for their child to find social connection with others through sport.

All of the parents in our study had children that attended mainstream schools. School is often one of the most important opportunities for children to develop social relationships. But our parents told us that, for their children, school was often isolating. Most of the parents felt school offered little for their children in relation to developing meaningful social relationships. One parent told us:

“He’s emotionally very up and down, and the downs are mainly to do with feeling socially isolated and missing out on things. I don’t think it’s been a particularly positive experience, school.”

For the full article by Dr Janine Coates (Senior Lecturer in Qualitative Research Methods, Loughborough University) and Dr Frank Hayden (Endowed Chair in Sport and Social Impact, Western University) visit the Conversation.